DestiNation ImagiNation CEO: Cutting Funding to the Arts Threatens the Learning Process

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Legislatures cutting arts funding to favor other curriculum don't understand the clear link between the arts and brain development, including enhanced abilities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

State legislatures are cutting school budgets to the bare bone, and their favorite target these days is arts funding. At the same time, observes Chuck Cadle, M.Ed. and CEO of Destination ImagiNation, it has been announced that the new Common Core Standards are placing emphasis on English, language arts and math.

The result of these cuts? "They are hacking off some very valuable arts programs without concern for the effects on the future of our youth and our culture," contends Cadle. "Most notably, the budget-cutting axe is falling on arts and arts funding in favor of preserving programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). We need both."

In point of fact, Cadle says, research shows the mental rigor demanded of participants in the arts actually can enhance the STEM learning experience. "We are visual beings. We see through our eyes, and that is a key component of how we learn and process information," says Cadle, who leads the world's largest team-baseed creative problem solving and critical thinking challenge program for people of all ages. "Scientists and teachers know the arts enhance brain development. Immersion in aesthetic expression has been shown to yield gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking and verbal skills. Arts education can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence and teamwork."

One of the central components of the open-ended challenges students face at Destination ImagiNation (http://www.idodi.org) is to express their solutions through theatrical drama and verbal presentations, often accompanied by music, mime, poetry or original song. As fundamental elements of their answers to the challenges with which they are presented, students are also required to design and construct imaginative props, faux machines and equipment (all of which actually work), artistic signage and stage furnishings, inventive apparatuses and other physical evidence supporting their creative solutions. They must think and create, which is one of the definitions of art. Art begins with a thought, as does every great thing ever accomplished by mankind.

In these initiatives, in which Destination ImagiNation participants are essentially practicing on life, STEM and the arts are thoroughly entwined and interdependent. Thus, the current rush to cut school budgets funding the arts not only threatens the soul of a generation, but will most certainly have adverse effects on STEM learning, as well, because of the interrelationship of the two.

"During the election season, we've heard the term 'class warfare' bandied about by various candidates criticizing other candidates," Cadle notes. "Would arts funding cuts play into that melee? Perhaps. The children of affluent parents generally get exposed to the arts whether or not public schools provide them. Denying arts education to public school students would disallow youth from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds equalization by denying them the enrichment experiences the arts provide."

"If the foregoing powerful lines of reasoning are lost on lawmakers, then perhaps a more straightforward argument will work: Money. Our economy depends on art," says Cadle.

Consider these statistics:

Total national economic impact attributed to art and art associated activities: $1.662 billion

  •     5.7 million full time equivalent jobs
  •     $104.2 billion in household income
  •     $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues
  •     $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues
  •     $12.6 billion in federal income tax revenues

    (Source: Arts & Economic Prosperity III: The economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences).

In terms of developing the nation's next generation of leaders, it has been said that leadership is a process enacted theatrically in art, in the act of staging, scripting, directing and performing. Think about that. Isn't that what a leader does to achieve the organization's objectives?

The nation is trying ineffectively to deal effectively with an epidemic of harassment, intimidation, and bullying, which can have lifelong negative effects on the bully and the victim. Schools are implementing innovative solutions to bullying problems, many of which are rooted in helping youth to understand each other by working together on team initiatives and projects. Let me go out on a limb here and suggest that band, chorus, drama, debate and visual and fine arts give kids an outlet to express themselves. Maybe this expressive outlet can foster mutual respect, understanding and appreciation of different values and thoughts -- clear antidotes for bullying that are already available in schools, yet are now threatened by Common Core and budget cuts.

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